Strategic drift

Washington and Kabul are convinced that Islamabad is serious in its resolve against terrorism this time

Strategic drift
Pakistan is in the middle of the largest anti-terrorism operation of its history, and it looks like the US and Afghanistan are beginning to sense that Islamabad is serious this time.

“We have vacated 2,708 square kilometers in North Waziristan and the rest of the agency will be cleared as early as possible,” says Maj Gen Zafarullah Khan, the general officer commanding of the 7th Infantry Division in Miranshah.

“Operation Zarb-e-Azb had been effective in rooting out terror and the Haqqani network are fractured in the operation too, like the Taliban,” according to Lt Gen Joseph Anderson, commander of international forces in Afghanistan. “That has very much disrupted their efforts [in Afghanistan] and has caused them to be less effective in terms of their ability to pull off an attack here in Kabul.”

Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif was recently in Washington to take the Americans in confidence about “Pakistan’s change of policy with regards to rooting out all militants on it’s bordering areas and inside mainland Pakistan” according to Maj Gen (r) Muhammad Ali.

“These miscreants, these barbarians played football with the heads of our soldiers and that scene never went off my mind,” Gen Sharif told a gathering at the Pakistani embassy in Washington. “After I took the command of the forces we were determined to eliminate these militants. We consulted with the political government and launched the operation,” he said. “I would like to openly say that this (operation) is against all hues and colours, and it is without any exception, whether it is Haqqani network or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or anything.”
"This was one of the most fruitful sessions on strategy we have ever had"

Last week, Pakistani Air Force targeted Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Haqqani network commanders. Reports say 32 militants were killed in the strikes inside North Waziristan. Gul Bahadur had reportedly made a peace deal with Pakistani forces in 2006. In July, weeks after the operation began, Gen Zafarullah Khan said he would be killed on sight.

“We see in years that the words from Pakistan are being translated into action and there seems to a genuine push from Pakistan side to get rid of good, bad and the ugly Talibans including Al Qaeda,” says a senior US military commander in the US who asked not to be named.

And it’s not just the Americans who think that way. China’s Minister for Public Security Guo Shengkun called on Pakistan’s army chief according to a press release by the Inter Services Public Relations, and acknowledged and appreciated the success of Zarb-e-Azb.

In the related Khyber One Operation, the military is targeting Lashkar-e-Islam headed by Mangal Bagh, Jamaatul Ahrar whose leader Abu Jandul was killed in a strike in November, and groups affiliated with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Abu Bakar Wajid, the TTP commander in Kukikhel area, was killed in artillery strikes in Jamrud region of Khyber Agency in late November. According to military sources, the army blocked all entry and exit points of the Bara market two days ahead of operation. “The air force is providing a crucial cover,” says Maj Muhamamd Arif, who is taking part in the operation.

Meanwhile, US drone strikes seem to have resumed. The latest, on December 7, killed Al Qaeda’s Omar Farooq in Khar Tangi, in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan.

In the US, the 23rd meeting of the US-Pakistan Defence Consultative Group ended on a positive note. “Both delegations affirmed the significance of the Pakistan military’s ongoing North Waziristan operation, which the US side affirmed has disrupted militants,” said a joint statement. A member of the Pakistani team said the Americans “are realizing what we want and are doing, and vice versa. This was one of the most fruitful sessions on strategy we have ever had.”

As the Pakistani military intensifies the operation, there are concerns about a backlash. “The TTP will choose the targets and the informal groups under its umbrella will provide support to the Ansarul Hind activists with weapons and other materials,” one source said.

With Pakistan and Afghanistan coming closer, especially after Afghan President Asghraf Ghani’s recent visit to Rawalpindi and Islamabad, Pakistan and Afghanistan’s intelligence agencies are also cooperating, for the first time. “Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Intelligence are cooperating,” an intelligence official in Kabul said. “The handover of TTP commander Latif Mehsud along with his associates to Pakistan shows our resolve.”

The biggest concern for Pakistan is what former ISI official Nasir Ahmed calls “spoilers in the region” who are not happy with the new friendship between Islamabad and Kabul. “They include Al Qaeda, the Haqqanis, and India.”